Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar by Jess Wells

Jess Wells is an enchantress who weaves words into a magical spell of a book that completely charmed me into believing every larger than life character and each magically real event.     

There is something musical, even symphonic in the way Wells can sustain so many interwoven narratives from the first thematic opening phrases on inevitably towards the marvellous conclusion. Her writing has a rhythmic, singing quality.  She can deftly sustain luxurious sentences, paragraphs and chapters; and also capture a human frailty or foible in a short, mordant turn of phrase.     

Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar is a celebration of many wonderful women. The giantess Jaguar Paloma and her devastatingly beautiful friend Orietta are emblematic of contrasting aspects of being a woman. Jaguar evolves into a goddess who leads, inspires and nurtures an incongruous collection women damaged by men, religion, and war, helping them find self-confidence and joy together, even as their fortunes rise, fall and indomitably rise again.  Orietta wrestles with the burden of her beauty, and the curse of being smarter than the men who would dominate her. And then there are the other marvellous characters: the tiny Hummingbird Jade and her tiny daughter Jewel, Cosimo who falls for her, the Drunken Monk and Agnes the (fallen) Nun, twins, brides, forgers, conmen, mule-skinners, Romani, a banker … In the end, despite all that has marked them, the female (and some of the male) characters, are triumphant. 

If you hear the music in Keats’ words in “Ode to a Grecian Urn” or if you delight in the lilting Welsh voice of Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood”,  if the rhythms and rimes of Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot” sing in your memory, if you read Ursula LeGuin’s “A  Wizard of Earthsea” with your ears, then you will relish the richness of Jess Wells’ writing.